Choosing kitchen countertop materials can feel like a bit of a minefield when you're trying to achieve a good blend of form and function.
If you're on a budget and have to take price into consideration, kitchen countertop ideas can become even more confusing.
The kitchen is where we carry out numerous daily chores, but is also a space where we spend a lot of time creating, hanging out and socializing, and sometimes even working, so its elements need to be visually appealing as well as long-lasting.
Thankfully, we've tapped a host of experts to give us the lowdown on the most hardwearing, cost-effective, and beautiful work surfaces for your next renovation.
Kitchen countertop materials explained
Whether you're looking for all-out glamor (hello, marble), or an aesthetically pleasing choice that's ideal for busy family life (look to composites like quartz), we've broken down the pros and cons of a wide range of kitchen countertops below.
1. Marble and granite
If you're looking to wow dinner guests with upscale kitchen ideas, you simply cannot go wrong with marble.
'Granite and marble worktops offer drama and sophistication to a kitchen,' says Richard Atkins, Managing Director, DesignSpace London.'
His top tips for installing it? 'If a large area is required to be clad in these materials, consider using book-matched slabs to create a powerful and dramatic effect,' he explains, adding: 'It is advisable to design your marble kitchen ideas with consideration of slab sizes to avoid unsightly joints. An oversight on this detail could ruin the look and may take away the effect and grace that these materials can bring to a kitchen scheme.'
Magnus Nilsson, lead designer at Blakes London, agrees marble is a go-to kitchen countertop material for a glamorous finish.
'Marble is beautiful, it’s a natural material, so every single piece of marble is unique,' he says. 'You can’t replicate what nature can create, so a natural piece of marble will add an organic flavor to the room.'
However, he also advises remembering that it is a porous material that might not work too well with a very busy family. 'It does tend to stain more easily than some of the manmade alternatives, especially with things like lemon juice, fruit, spices, and red wine.'
Quartz is a manmade composite that is extremely popular owing to its mix of pleasing aesthetic and durability. 'Quartz is currently one of the most popular work surface materials for kitchen use,' DesignSpace's Richard Atkins echoes. 'Up until recently, the graining has been less exciting than the dramatic veins found in natural materials like marble or granite, however, as the trend is leaning towards natural-looking work surfaces, many companies have introduced new finishes to meet the market's need. '
'This is great news for anyone who wants a stain, heat and scratch-resistant worktop that also delivers personality.'
'Many manufacturers offer quartz work surfaces with similar properties, however they tend to have their own colors and finishes so it is worth researching before choosing a brand,' he adds.
'Some quartz manufacturers offer worktops with bacteriostatic protection. This active hygiene system prevents the growth of bacteria, which is perfect for busy family kitchens.'
A wood kitchen countertop can add warmth and texture to what is essentially a functional space.
'Solid wood worktops were popular for many years although they have slightly fallen out of favor in recent times,' Richard says. 'However, wood kitchen ideas can introduce warmth and character to a kitchen scheme. A well-cared-for wooden surface becomes more beautiful and gains in character through the years. The look and feel of a mature wooden worktop is often unique and almost impossible to imitate.'
Some people avoid having wooden worktops as the perception is that wood requires more maintenance and care. 'Unfortunately if a wooden worktop is not oiled when it is first installed or becomes dry, it is more vulnerable to staining,' Richard advises. 'Oil helps the wood to be water resistant. A dry wooden worktop may also bow.
'Wooden worktops should be oiled when first installed, and then on a regular basis, to avoid becoming dry. A wipe down with warm soapy water is the all that is required for everyday maintenance.'
The fact that damaged or tired looking surfaces can be sanded down is one of the most attractive qualities of a solid wood worktop. 'Finishes like oak, cherry and beech have traditionally been popular. However, as the trend for kitchen furniture moves towards lighter and more neutral tones, richer wood finishes like walnut, wenge and dark ash have become more popular as a striking contrast.'
As seen in Rachel Khoo's beautiful kitchen by deVOL (above), wood kitchen countertops can make an elegant yet cozy addition to your space.
4. Stainless steel
Stainless steel countertops are a style that need some of the least maintenance, and while best known for professional kitchens, have become a trend for an industrial-style glamor in their own right.
'Stainless steel surfaces scratch easily but over time, they develop a wonderful patina,' Richard explains. 'They can also offer a clean-lined look as worktop thickness as thin as 4mm can be achieved with stainless steel.'
Blake London's Magnus Nilsson agrees a stainless steel kitchen is a 'very practical surface' in terms of trying to keep clean.
He adds: 'It’s easily scratched but doesn’t stain, and is very hygienic. It needs to be constantly buffed and polished due to the marks, but it can look very cool in a modern home.'
Copper is a kitchen countertop material that may surprise you, but is shooting up the popularity scale thanks to its glamorous yet durable appeal.
'We love using copper worktops, and they're becoming increasingly popular,' says Helen Parker, director at deVOL. 'Copper has a long history of being used for worktops and has amazing inherent antibacterial properties.'
Copper has a few limitations, however. 'We do not recommend food preparation directly on the copper as it can taint the taste of food,' Helen says. 'We also recommend that you don’t cut directly onto copper as it is soft and will scratch.'
Porcelain worktops are increasingly popular as they are affordable, stable and highly durable, with brands like Caesarstone introducing them into its range.
'Kitchen manufacturers like Modulnova have applied porcelain not only as worktops, but also on kitchen doors,' says DesignSpace London's Richard Atkins. 'Finishes and effects available include stone, wood and metal.'
'The option of having kitchen work surfaces that look like they've carved out of stone is now easier to achieve,' he adds.
7. Concrete or microcement
A relative newcomer to kitchen countertop materials, concrete is a very aesthetically on-trend work surface for an industrial kitchen that's also durable, although it does have drawbacks, including its eco credentials, or lack thereof.
'Concrete is expensive, and not the most eco-friendly product to use,' Magnus Nilsson of Blakes London tells us. 'However, it's very hardwearing, very trendy, and does tend to be a worktop for life. It’s also ideal for an industrial-style decor theme.'
The only form of worktop that does not require templating is laminate, as it can be cut to size on site.
'Laminates come in different finishes and qualities,' Richard explains. 'Traditional laminates often look and feel like plastic, however, there are many more fine, matt and more realistic-looking laminates that have been introduced in recent years. This allows homeowners to have a sophisticated, creative yet durable scheme for their kitchen even if they are on a tight budget.
However, he warns that you have to be careful with your choice, adding: 'Avoid poor quality laminate finishes that imitate natural stones or wood, as the effect is often unrealistic and could age the look of a kitchen.'
What is the most durable material for kitchen countertops?
Kitchen design is a careful balance between what’s going to look good and what’s going to work well.
'If you want a work surface that’s low maintenance, doesn’t need sealing (because it isn’t porous like most natural stones),' says Neptune's Claire Birkbeck, 'and that can take spills and knocks without causing sheer panic, then quartz surfaces should be your best bet.'
'The most durable kitchen countertop tends to be manmade, composite materials, such as quartz and Corian.'
Quartz, a mix of natural and manmade product, can mimic the look of marble but is scratch-resistant, ultra-durable, easy to clean, and hygienic thanks to its non-porous finish making resistant towards bacteria.
What is the cheapest and most durable kitchen countertop material?
Work surfaces are a defining feature of any kitchen, and will likely require you to consider the matter of function or form first. The aim, of course, is to achieve both.
'When working to a budget, granite is the perfect combination,' says Neptune's Claire Birkbeck. 'It’s a tough rock that’s forged in fire, so very hard to damage (and if you do manage to, it’s generally easy to repair, unlike marble or timber).
'It also has a beautiful dappled effect that will mask any stains. The reason we recommend this surface for projects on a budget? The material itself is much more readily available, so the cost isn’t nearly as high as quartz, timber or marble.'
Magnus Nilsson agrees, adding: 'Granite tends to be quite a hardwearing, relatively stain-free option that can come in at quite a cost-effective price point.'
What is the most popular countertop for kitchens?
'The most popular kitchen countertop material is, undoubtedly, marble,' says Claire Bickbeck.
'Whether it’s a pale grey vein or a dark and dramatic one, the marble kitchen ideas bring a sense of calm to kitchens.
'And not only does marble's good looks win over the crowd but, like oak, it brings with it an inherent sense of luxury. An added bonus? It remains cool to the touch, making it the material of choice for any budding pastry chefs out there.'
'Marble is by far the most coveted countertop material,' agrees Blake London's Magnus Nilsson. 'While it is trickier to maintain and look after, it always adds beauty and elegance to a room. While marble isn’t always the most practical solution, man made options that are made to look like marble, like silestone and quartz, also work incredibly well.’
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Ruth Doherty is a lifestyle journalist based in London. An experienced freelance digital writer and editor, she is known for covering everything from travel and interiors to fashion and beauty. She regularly contributes to Livingetc, Ideal Home and Homes & Gardens, as well as titles like Prima and Red. Outside of work, her biggest loves are endless cups of tea, almond croissants, shopping for clothes she doesn’t need, and booking holidays she does.
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